From the Summit: Making Changes in Student Housing

How Emerging Trends in Student Housing are Fueling Operational, Technological and Experience-Focused Strategies

The student housing sector makes a case for the most fluctuating business in the nation. The revolving door of move-ins and move-outs occurs at a much greater rate than in the conventional apartment world, and the desires and preferences of younger renters are constantly morphing.

To keep pace, student housing operators must continuously adjust, remain agile and offer the right tech solutions that cultivate both the resident and associate experience. Operators shared some of their cutting-edge strategies at the 2023 Entrata Summit session Making Changes in Student Housing: How Emerging Trends in Student Housing are Fueling Operational, Technological and Experience-Focused Strategies.

Most notably, panelists agreed that turn processes and move-in days should be more efficient and in line with the modern-day experience.

“Move-in day is the Super Bowl of what we do—we work the entire year for move-in day,” said Adam Yarber, Director of Training & Customer Experience for University Partners. “It baffles me how the industry has been doing this for 50, 60 years, and we still have properties that miss the mark. And I’m not talking by a little bit; we have properties that miss it by a whole football field.”

Yarber’s chief objective is to make sure that doesn’t happen for University Partners. Part of that effort includes tech-enabled simplification, which includes reducing the entire check-in process for arriving renters to a centralized station and the use of a digital move-in checklist to efficiently keep pace and ensure all move-in objectives are met. He advises operators to question every tactic within their move-in day process and to cut it if it’s not needed.

As part of the efficiency theme, Sam Choi, VP of Technology for SPM, imparted ways to make the application process pain-free. For instance, communities with various floor plans with only slight differences between them can consolidate them into simpler groups so students don’t become confused about what they’re choosing. Choi and his team discovered that 42% of individuals who began the application process dropped off before finishing part one.

“Why would you drop off on part one?” Choi questioned. “This is where you decide what type of floor plan you want. We found that the way to make this easy was to consolidate them. If a property has 287 space configurations, how do you choose what you want? If this is the case, use this as an opportunity to talk to your asset folks, regionals and branding folks and see what can be done.”

Choi advised to take the same approach on roommate questionnaires and pare down any questions that don’t align with marketing initiatives, engagement or roommate matching. Questionnaires are simple to modify in a digital portal and will reduce drop-off points for many applicants.

Panelists also discussed the presence of corporate teams onsite during key moments of the resident lifecycle. Although their presence is welcomed, these teams are essentially in the way if not firmly aware of the role they should play.

“One challenge we still face—and it isn’t really a new challenge—is gaining a deep understanding and appreciation of what our onsite teams go through during turn,” said Krystle Coleman, VP of Business Operations for The Scion Group. “We’ve really been focused on how we can teach and train our corporate teams—our support department—about turn. We want to make sure they’re not overwhelming or adding any additional burden to our onsite teams.”

As part of this initiative, The Scion Group has sent its support teams onsite during turn so they can experience it firsthand, with training part of the equation. As the support teams gain experience from move-out to move-in, they are better equipped to assist with the move-out inspection process, access the move-in board and take some of the manual stresses away from the onsite team.

The session, moderated by Entrata Senior Product Manager Sara Lenchek, also discussed the benefits of exhibiting a deeper focus on the employee experience. Yarber noted that student housing providers operate million-dollar communities but often rush the associate onboarding process rather than providing a firm pathway for career development. Improved onboarding methods, he said, will lead to longer stints with the company and have a positive trickle-down effect.

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